As I watch popular pundits explore New Year's resolutions I am struck by how simple they make change look. It only takes 5 minutes a day to develop your abs, you can lose weight simply by drinking a certain concoction, you can live more simply by getting rid of clutter. Our culture thrives on 2 minute segments and happy posters. We are seduced by simplicity.
And as such, we make decisions to change, work at it for a while and often find that we revert to older patterns of behavior. Most resolutions assume that if we just have more will-power and work harder we will be able to make fundamental changes in our lives.
And I do think commitment and will-power matters. Nothing much happens unless someone is committed to doing it.
But, my experience causes me to question the sufficiency of will-power. And that is because we are all part of communities of influence. We are part of families, social groups, churches, neighborhoods, etc. And as participants in those social communities, we are not only recipients of their graces, but we are also influenced by their needs and desires. So, to make changes in ourselves results in changes in the social system. And that is where the rub comes.
For example, when I had young children at home my daily routine included a great deal of time spent in planning and facilitating life for more than me. If I decided that I was going to change my routine so that I could exercise more, my ability to keep up the practice was influenced by my family adapting to that. Now social systems are powerful forces in our lives. They are designed to maintain patterns of behavior that perpetuate the sustainability of the system. They are not readily amenable to individuals in the system just deciding to change the way they are doing things. So resolving to exercise more wasn't that simple.
Now, I am not suggesting that we can't change. I am not cynical about change. I am suspicious of any change that people think is simple. And I don't debunk New Year resolutions. But, if we keep making them and think that it will be simple to just muster enough will-power to make them happen without taking into account all the other people in our social systems, we set ourselves up for failure. And when we fail over and over again, it gets discouraging.
So, as you think of a change or two you might want to make this year, think carefully about what impact that change might have on others and the way you contribute to others social system. Invite those who are impacted into conversations about your goals. See if they are willing to give up some of what you were offering for the sake of your desire to improve you own life. After all, when you are healthy and taking responsibility for your own life, they will have a greater chance to keep you around in their system longer.